In reality, England are beset with injuries and the remaining key players are badly out of tune. If the situation is correctly handled (which I hope it will be, not in expectation) this will pass.
But last night’s result was the failure of a bigger project. A project summed up in McClaren’s unfortunate phrase “an English performance”. It wasn’t his project – he’s a modern coach, broadminded with an appetite for effective innovation. No, this is the press’s doing. They wanted Sven out – Beckham out – an English coach, on the mystical grounds that an Englishmen “understood” English players – a stress on passion, on the mystical grounds that this, and not skill or tactical nous on the players’ part, was what had been lacking – they wanted recalls for Defoe, Johnson, Parker and others – they wanted Lampard and Gerrard’s midfield partnership ending – and you can fill in the rest.
When an enterprise based entirely on superstitious nonsense and religious thinking breaks down, what happens is consistent, if not logical. A cult that has been preparing for the end of the world, that has retreated from everyday life, that has named the day – then spent that day in fruitless waiting on a hillside somewhere – doesn’t fold up its tents and disappear. No, its message takes a subtle turn – owing to the mercy of God, or the virtue of the cult’s members, the world is saved! And now, there’s even more reason to join the cult! and the group turns outwards, evangelising furiously. Its membership burgeons.
Englishness has failed the England team. That thing the press forced upon us has let us down completely. Plenty of people who thought it was a good idea are waking up like so many Indiana Joneses escaping the blood of Kali. Now they are coming onto the radio and coming onto talkboards with mea culpas.
The press won’t do this. Instead, they are going to turn on Steve McClaren with a viciousness that will make what happened to Sven look insignificant. It will make what happened to Graham Taylor and Bobby Robson look insignificant. He has to be ready for that.
But it won’t be the Englishness project they’ll attack. Instead, they’ll blame McClaren’s failure to deliver the Englishness. There’s nothing wrong with Englishness – Englishness didn’t fail – it just hasn’t been properly tried yet!
Watch while one player after another is castigated for failing in the great pursuit of true Englishness. Watch while one player after another is hailed as the man who will – finally! bring it to us and make the sun rise in a fanfare.
It’s all nonsense on stilts and nothing to do with qualifying for tournaments, winning matches, getting the best team together etc.. just as we learned the hard way under Keegan. We have to learn it all over again. But there’s no Adam Crozier at the FA now. I think it’s going to take us longer this time.